Friday, September 14, 2007

Lithuania Holds Off Croatia

Euro '07 Quarterfinals: Lithuania 74, Croatia 72

- With Lithuania in the midst of their poorest offensive outing, and in danger of being bounced from medal contention, they received a big lift from their two NBA forwards. Both Darius Songaila & Linas Kleiza provided Lithuania with inside/outside production, and were especially helpful down the stretch. Lithuania also reaped the benefits of Croatia's poor free throw shooting, including 2 crucial misses by ex-Net Zoran Planinic that would have tied the game with :02 secs.

Here's how the final half-minute unfolded:

- With Lith up 74-70 with :27 on the clock, Planinic was in the process of driving past Songaila, so Darius reached out to foul Zoran but he was a little to forceful, and an intentional foul was called. Zoran hit his two free throws to make it 74-72, Croatia retained possession, they missed a 3pt. attempt, but Lith knocked the attempted rebound out of bounds. Croatia gets the ball out under basket with :02. Lob pass to Zoran in the paint, he was fouled on the pass by Kaukenas (by the way, it was NOT on purpose). Zoran goes to the line and misses both free throws, game over.

- Kleiza has been not afraid to bang bodies in the paint area this entire tourney, and today was no different. Linas bogarted his way to 5 off rebs (9 total) and his aggressive play helped him draw fouls (7/7 fts). But he also added some goods from the perimeter as well. Kleiza first made his presence known in the 2nd quarter with 8 pts. Then he re-emerged in the 4th by knocking down multiple jumpers, and finished with 19 pts (2 3pts).

- Songaila did his work in a very similar fashion, going inside & out. We have been use to Darius doing unsung work down low thru-out Euro '07, but today he did as much damage with his face-up game, especially drilling some key jumpers in the 4th. Darius ended with 20 on 8/13 & 7 rebs (3 off), and probably has been Lithuania's second best player in Euro '07 besides Saras.

- Zoran Planinic did a great job getting into the teeth of the Lithuanian defense all game, and either dropping sweet dimes or finishing at the glass. He did a good job finishing in transition, which were usually the result of him forcing 7 steals. Zoran led Croatia with 16 pts, 5 assts, 7 stls & 3 rebs. But Zoran sort of neutralized his good play in other areas by going 3/8 from the free throw line, including the 2 big misses late. Zoran has struggled on the ft stripe in the tourney--he now shooting 10/21 on fts.

- Part of Lithuania's struggles can be traced to their uncharacteristic 6/21 3pt. shooting, which helped lead to a 39.6% day from the floor overall. But Lith's off-shooting night was tempered by the fact that Croatia shot only 10/29 from the 3pt. line & 41% overall. And maybe most importantly, the free shooting disparity really saved Lithuania's hide. Lith was 22/26, while Croatia crumbled at the charity stripe--8/19.

- Saras did not seem to be playing with quite the same verve he had earlier in the tourney, but he still managed to drop some of his trademark precision passes (8 assts), though had issues with TOs again with 5. Croatia did a good job of doubling Saras off of pick/rolls often, forcing the ball out of his hands. It looks obvious he's laboring, and not having a day off before the Semis, can't be good news for Lithuania.

- Lithuania now will face Russia in a showdown for Soviet bloc bragging rights. In general, Lith is clearly the superior offensive unit, but with Saras less than 100% and Russia showing competent play on offense vs. France, this game should be up for grabs. If Saras was healty I would have no trouble picking Lith, but he's gimpy so my choice is tougher. But still think Lith has enough firepower to overcome Saras' injury, but I expect a tough battle.